Saturday, July 02, 2011

Vows, the Gary Shteyngart version

-I totally know the Vows couple! OK, not the couple, but I very much remember that cashier from Blue Apron, largely because she was once part of a chamber music group playing outside the store, which is very much in keeping with the spirit of the place, which is, there is no doubt, the most pretentious food store in the entire world. (A pretentious food store has classical music playing inside. One with live classical music out front thus takes the organic-or-preferably-flown-in-from-France cake.) A gourmet shop, in Park Slope, for people too rich for the Co-op (I once overheard a conversation among well-heeled-looking 50-somethings about their "three houses"), or, ahem, grad students who had written rants about the Co-op on their blog and on Gothamist, had been written up angrily in the Co-op's newspaper, and as such could not join even once living so nearby, as in directly around the corner, it was kind of idiotic not to. Blue Apron also has (or had, when I lived across the street from it, in a kind of disastrous apartment where carbon monoxide was considered a kind of eh situation the landlord might ignore - people, do not live in central Park Slope) a fantastic cheese selection, Baked brownies, lox, croissants on the weekends... just enough to make gilded/suffocating atmosphere of the place worth dealing with. I complained about it when it was there, then, in Battery Park City, where the options are Gristedes or Gristedes, I came to miss it terribly.

That aside aside, from a Grad-Student Anti-Defamation League perspective, nothing like a story of someone entering a doctoral program and leaving after a few weeks to become a barista, ultimately finding fulfillment working at a coffee bar in Grand Central Station. And from a literary perspective, if I didn't know that the bride was a real person, I'd think the whole thing was a story by Gary Shteyngart.

-"Happily Divorced" is such a disappointment. As a Fran Drescher admirer, I'm kind of crushed. The show consists of exactly one joke - the main character's ex-husband, being gay, likes moisturizer, musical theater, and the color pink, OMG! - repeated ad nauseum in slightly different incarnations each time. One would think, in this post-"Will and Grace" age, we'd be past the idea that "gay" = liking "gay" things, and would have arrived at "gay" = attracted to members of the same sex. But there's no evidence of this character, who has left his wife because he now likes men, being even remotely interested in men. In "fuchsia," yes, in designing clothes, yes, but XY-chromosomed individuals, no. And if this basic premise weren't offensive enough, there's a cringe-inducing minor character, a Latino servant who occasionally interacts with "Miss Fran" and "Mr. Peter," whose presence on the show is so dated, so how is this even possible, that the ex-couple's black female sidekick friend (played by Tichina Arnold, who was/is the best thing about "Everybody Hates Chris") seems like a semi-developed character, even if this character, too, is offensive-cliché central. And, if anyone Jewish reading this wants to be offended as a Jew, there's the fact that we have, as with "Grace," the premise that a straight, attractive Jewish woman's natural companion is a gay man.

But even for the impossible-to-offend, the problem with the show is that there's nothing there. It's not believable that the costars were ever a married couple, that the ex-husband's dealing with suddenly coming out as gay after 18 years of marriage to a woman, that the ex-wife's dealing with the result of this, that either of them are doing anything more than reciting a script they've niftily memorized on what is clearly the set of "The New Adventures of the Old Christine," a similar show that is, alas, a great work of art compared with this one. And the premise is based on Fran Drescher's real life, co-created by the newishly-out ex-husband Peter! How is it so off? Mostly though, the show just feels empty, because the non-plot of Nanny Fine's husband being gay isn't rescued by any sub-plots. The other characters (see above) have no stories of their own. Fran's parents on the show are in the Generic Jewish Parents model, but with so little nuance - like when a black family on a TV show is played by actors with no resemblance to one another aside from all being, according to U.S. definitions, black - that they seem to come from a totally different world than the Fran alter-ego. The mother should be lecturing in Jewish Studies somewhere, i.e. is not the mother of Nanny Fine. Where's Sylvia? And Yetta? I miss Yetta.

-Ombré, round two, has happened, thanks to readily available and inexpensive adolescent-angst hair products in Heidelberg. Basically the same as the first attempt, except the tips fade not to orange but to blond - not platinum, because my hair doesn't do that, but light enough that the pink ought to show up just right. However, because I was, against my request, sold the weaker bleach, by the time it had done its thing I was too sick of having hair goop in that I'm going to have to save the pinkification for another day. I mean, I get that they're trying to be helpful, but obviously if your plan is to rebleach just the tips of your hair, you're not losing sleep over whether the hair-color you use is going to give you split ends. Obviously, if I decide to/need to look conservative, a haircut will be in order.


PG said...

Tichina Arnold, who was/is the best thing about "Everybody Hates Chris"

Yes. She also had a great voice role in a Boondocks episode, "Attack of the Killer Kung-Fu Wolf Bitch."

Jacob T. Levy said...

"As a Fran Drescher fan"

Expliquez, s'il-vous-plait. I have a hard enough time imagining *anyone* being a Fran Drescher fan, though obviously there are some such people. But you, with your attention to portrayals of Jews, women, and Jewish women in popular culture? What is it about her schtick that could possibly amuse rather than outrage you?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I, along with a few otherwise-reasonable people I know, really like "The Nanny." It's brilliantly-written, for one, well above and beyond what those who just know about the show would expect. As for the Fran persona herself, I see her as more of a modern "belle Juive" but with (for lack of a better term) agency than as a sad-sack cliché (ala Grace from "Will and Grace," Rhoda, etc.). Rather than being too repulsive for Jewish men, she's a sex object for British pseudo-aristocrat Mr. Sheffield.

Part of why this works is that Fran's not a "JAP" - she's from a much more modest background than any of the non-Jewish characters on the show, save Niles the butler, whom you'd be forgiven for confusing with Niles the brother on "Frasier," except that he's the butler. But the main thing is that it's precisely her "Jewish" strangeness that Mr. Sheffield's attracted to. He doesn't like her despite the big hair and accent - the big hair and accent have rendered the flat hair and non-nasal voices of other women bland.

I mean, is fetishization, and negative from that angle? Kind of, but because it's always clear that Fran Fine/Drescher is 100% in control of the situation, I tend not to cringe. And given the disparity in the culture today between representations of Jewish men fetishizing "the shiksa" and Gentile men fetishizing "the Jewess," maybe the occasional, if crude, example of the latter doesn't hurt. Maybe.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

* is it fetishization